CONCORD -- Hundreds of people arrived Saturday at Todos Santos Plaza from the greater Bay Area to celebrate the Brewing Network's fourth annual Winter Brews Festival.
More than 30 micro and home brewers set up tents and poured thousands of tastes for beer buffs and aficionados who descended on the Concord park for the latest suds being cooked up in garages and small breweries.
Larger operations were also in attendance, including Sierra Nevada, pouring one of its latest creations. Ovila Abbey Saison is a strongly Belgian-influenced beer created in its partnership with the Abbey of New Clairvaux, a monastery in Vina, just up the highway from Sierra Nevada's headquarters in Chico.
"Some of the brew masters and owners of Sierra Nevada took a trip to Belgium to visit some of the true Trappist monasteries," said Brian Kracht, Sierra Nevada event donation specialist for Northern California. "What we were after in creating this line of beer was to follow in that history of great Belgian beers."
Kracht says knowledge of Belgian beers is becoming more popular with craft beer brewers in the United States and influencing taste.
"I think you are seeing a resurgence in most Belgian traditional styles ... almost sweeping America in a way," Kracht said.
But the India Pale Ale-style beers that are hop driven are definitely one of the hottest segments in the craft beer industry right now, he said.
"It's a great time for craft beer
Food was also on the menu at the festival, with mobile street vendor and food truck offerings.
Mike Johannsen, an owner of the newly opened Shubros Brewery in San Ramon, said one of its brewery's core values is giving back to its community, and is often active in local events, having donated popular beer and food pairings as a charity fundraising auction item.
The newcomer shared a table with veteran Russian River Brewing Co. at Saturday's fest to showcase its Nico American Wheat with heavy rye flavors, as well as Diablo Park Stout, two beers they are bottling. This year, 1 percent of all Nico sales will go to the East Bay Regional Park District.
"I think beer festivals are a great way to connect with the community," said Johannsen. "It gives us a chance to engage (with consumers) tell them we are local. Come and visit us; tour our brewery."
Located just across the street from Todos Santos Plaza is E.J. Phair Brewing Company and Alehouse. Although it moved its brewing facility to Pittsburg a few years ago, its pub-like eatery is still on the plaza.
It joined some 30 other brewers, including Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, Drake's, Heretic, Triple Rock and Bear Republic Brewing Co., offering tastes of craft beer.
"We probably poured 30 to 40 percent more beer this year than last year," said Bear Republic beer ambassador Dan Hane. "We brought Red Rocket, and a winter warmer -- a beer we brew once a year."
Home beer brewer Justin Beardsley accompanied owners of Hop Tech of Dublin, which sells brewing supplies, bringing a few of his draughts for tasting.
One batch caught on and people kept coming back for more. Beardsley, a paramedic by trade, said he hopes to open his own brewery later this year if all goes according to plan.
California's craft brewing industry is rapidly growing, feeding the local economies. In 2011, the industry pumped $3 billion in to the state's economy and created more than 22,000 jobs, according to a report released by the California Craft Brewing Association in October.
Many brewers say events such as the Winter Brews Festival help get the word out about local breweries and the variety of high quality beers they produce.
"These festivals are very important," said Kracht. "The way I look at it, it's a win-win for both parties ... raising profits for the nonprofit that's involved, and I get to come out and talk to prospective consumers and educate people about our beers."
Funds raised are for The Coral Reef Alliance -- CORAL -- a nonprofit that unites communities to save coral reefs, which are critical for the support of a quarter of all marine species.
Providing entertainment again this year was Ralph Woodson, guitar and lead vocal of Purple Haze, who has played the last three festivals and wants it to be a steady on his calendar.
"It's fun," Woodson said. "This is the only outdoor gig in January."